NFL Nation: Jonathan Martin

Examining the San Francisco 49ers' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

Because of heavy competition elsewhere, the 49ers will likely only carry two quarterbacks. They finished last season that way. The competition will be to see if undrafted rookie Kory Faulkner can take McLeod Bethel-Thompson's spot on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

The fact that the 49ers drafted Hyde in the second round and Lattimore is healthy means some tough decisions will have to be made. Hunter is too valuable to let go. That means 2012 second-round pick LaMichael James will have difficulty making the roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

The 49ers are so much deeper here this year than last. That means they will likely have to keep six receivers. Lloyd may look good and Patton has too much potential to give up on. That means it could be tough for Kassim Osgood to make it even though he is a special teams cog.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

If Davis ends his holdout, I can't see the 49ers keeping more than three tight ends because of the glut at receiver. Unless Garrett Celek has a big camp, he may be in trouble. Carrier intrigues the 49ers because of his size and speed.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

Assuming Boone ends his holdout, this is a pretty nice group of eight players. It's improved from last year. A solid veteran like Adam Snyder and a promising youngster like Ryan Seymour will have trouble making the team.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

This is another power spot. It's deep. Players like Jerod-Eddie and Dial are too valuable to cut. Ramsey has looked good and I have a hunch the 49ers may like him too much to expose him to the waiver wire. That means Demarcus Dobbs could be in trouble.

LINEBACKERS (7)

Most teams carry six linebackers but the 49ers are stacked here, especially with NaVorro Bowman out for about half the season. Because fifth-round pick Lynch is promising he should make the roster. Dan Skuta is an excellent player, but there might not be any room for him. I could see him being one of those later-summer Trent Baalke trade specials because he has value.

CORNERBACKS (5)

This unit is in flux, but I see Johnson making it. Don't be surprised if there is some in-camp jockeying as the 49ers look for the best mix.

SAFETIES (5)

Ward, the 49ers' first-round pick, will play nickel cornerback as a rookie, but projects long term as a safety. Ventrone and Spillman should stick because they are great on special teams. Craig Dahl could be in trouble.

SPECIALISTS (3):

This group is set and it's excellent.
The Miami Dolphins were a competitive 8-8 in 2013 and just one win away from making the playoffs. They signed Branden Albert, a Pro Bowl left tackle and drafted right tackle Ja'Wuan James in the first-round to fix the offensive line. Miami added 1,000-yard running back Knowshon Moreno to boost their shoddy rushing attack.

Add veteran signings such as cornerback Cortland Finnegan, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, safety Louis Delmas, a new draft class and the Dolphins should be projected to take the next step, correct?

Not so fast.

The early 2014 projections are in and it doesn’t look good for Miami. So far, many experts are predicting the Dolphins slide this year.

ESPN.com recently ranked the Dolphins in the bottom third of the NFL at No. 24. One voter -- NFL Nation reporter Kevin Seifert -- rated the Dolphins No. 30, which rubbed a lot of Dolphins fans the wrong way. Bleacher Report also rated Miami last at No. 32 and the worst team in the NFL. Football Outsiders predicted Miami would finish 7-9.

Why is Miami being ranked low nationally? Here are three theories:

1. Head coach on the hot seat

Analysis: It rarely looks good for a team when the head coach enters the season on the hot seat. Joe Philbin is a shaky 15-17 in two seasons. He has yet to post a winning record or make the playoffs. There are no excuses for Philbin to fail in his third year. Although the Dolphins won’t admit it publicly, it’s playoffs or bust. What if Miami gets off to a slow start? What if the Dolphins are out of the playoff race in November? Miami must win early to quiet the speculation. Philbin must also get his players to respond week in and week out despite his status.

2. Not much confidence in Tannehill

Analysis: Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has one of the top-selling jerseys in the NFL. He gets a ton of support in South Florida. Yet, Tannehill doesn’t get the same love nationally. Tannehill has a mediocre 15-17 record as a starter. He hasn’t proven to be a winning quarterback in two seasons and it’s now or never. Tannehill is learning a new offensive scheme for the first time since college. He has also struggled throwing the deep ball and holding the ball too long. Based on early Power Rankings, it appears the national media does not think Tannehill is going to do anything special this year.

3. Bad Press

Analysis: Fair or not, the Dolphins have the national perception of a team in turmoil and previously with a bad locker room. Last year’s bullying scandal rocked Miami and put the entire organization in a bad light. To the Dolphins’ credit, owner Stephen Ross, first-year general manager Dennis Hickey and Philbin have done a lot to clean up last year’s ills. They let Richie Incognito and John Jerry walk in free agency and traded Jonathan Martin. But recent issues on social media with Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey, who may face an early-season suspension, and Don Jones keep Miami’s locker-room issues in the spotlight.

When you consider all these factors, it’s easier to see why the national media isn’t giving Miami much respect this upcoming season. The Dolphins also have the 12th toughest strength of schedule.

Miami will have a chance to fly under the radar. That could be a good thing. Meanwhile, Dolphins fans shouldn't expect much respect from the national media leading up to the regular season.
One of the worst-kept secrets in this year’s NFL draft is the Miami Dolphins will draft offensive linemen. There is a strong chance Miami will dedicate at least two of its six draft picks this year on fixing the position.

The Dolphins are in the process of completely making over the offensive line. Miami could have four new starters next season after the departures of tackles Bryant McKinnie and Tyson Clabo in free agency and guards Richie Incognito and John Jerry due to last year’s bullying scandal. Jonathan Martin, who began the 2013 season at left tackle, was traded after leaving the team in late October due to the harassment.

Miami could only do so much in free agency. The Dolphins signed starting left tackle Branden Albert and guard Shelley Smith. But another guard position and right tackle remain wide open entering next week’s draft.

Top prospects such as Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan are expected to be off the board when the Dolphins select at No. 19. Therefore, former NFL head coach and ESPN football analyst Jon Gruden shared his thoughts on this year’s second tier of offensive tackles in a recent conference call:
“Morgan Moses at Virginia is a very interesting guy to me. They've had a history of left tackles come out of Virginia. Moses is a kid that played one year at left tackle. He was a right tackle for a couple years. Joel Bitonio at Nevada is an interesting player. A fifth-year senior, been around, worked hard. I think he has some position flexibility, can play right, left or go inside. I like Zack Martin at Notre Dame. He might be my favorite linemen in this draft – 52-time starter, captain, really excelled at the Senior Bowl, drill work. Cyrus Kouandjio at Alabama, interesting player. Had some knee issues. I believe he's rounding into health. Massive person with experience on the left side. There's a number of interesting big people in this draft. I think last year we had three tackles go in the top five. So we got a lot of good quality offensive linemen coming into pro football here.”

The Dolphins are expected to have interest in all of these prospects. Martin is the top target at No. 19 of this group. But Moses and Bitonio also are possibilities in the second round.

Look for Miami to not only look for offensive linemen in the early rounds, but also in the middle and late rounds, as well.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Monday that improving the workplace environment is a major focus for the league moving forward. Goodell said he spoke numerous times to the Miami Dolphins and 40 players total from nine different teams on how to fix the league’s locker-room culture.

“What do we need to do to make sure we have a workplace that we're all proud of?” Goodell said at the annual league meetings. “Those [talks] have been very productive.”

None of this would be possible without the Dolphins. Had Jonathan Martin not left the team on Oct. 29 amid bullying and harassment claims and caused a media firestorm, this topic would not be near the top of the docket at the NFL’s league meetings. That is perhaps the biggest silver lining the Dolphins can take from one of the most controversial chapters in franchise history.

The curtain was pulled back on Miami’s locker-room culture last season and prompted conversation and change. Mike Pouncey, Richie Incognito and John Jerry were three players cited for harassment in the 144-page Ted Wells report. That certainly caught Goodell’s attention, and the NFL is examining various measures to prevent another situation like this from happening again.

“We’re trying to get as much input as possible,” Goodell said. “This is a culture change. ... This is more about people understanding the importance of a professional workplace where there’s respect for everybody, whether it’s a teammate, an opponent, game officials.”

In this case, change is good. NFL locker rooms have long been behind the times. The Dolphins just happen to be the team that exposed the need for change. What the Dolphins experienced last year was negative, but learning from it going forward is a positive for the Dolphins and the entire NFL.

According to Goodell, no decisions have been made on potential suspensions for Incognito, Pouncey and Jerry. Goodell said all three players must first go through medical evaluations before the NFL makes a decision.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The NFL league meetings are underway Monday in the sunshine state.

Here are some Miami Dolphins-centric items that took place:
  • There was some chatter on improving locker-room culture. The Dolphins set the stage last season when the Ted Wells report pulled back the curtain on their bullying scandal involving Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Different coaches offered perspectives in Orlando. "I think coaches are held to a standard that sometimes is impossible," Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians explained Monday. "We don't see our guys until April 21st. If they're living in New Orleans or somewhere else, I don't know how we're responsible for what they do. They're men. They have families. They have children. They're responsible for their actions, not the coach."
  • Dolphins president Tom Garfinkel said negotiations for stadium renovations are ongoing, and owner Stephen Ross plans to pay about $350 million of his own money into improving Sun Life Stadium. But the Dolphins are seeking property tax relief in exchange. "Miami Gardens is our neighborhood," Garfinkel explained. "We want to work with them, as well as the school board, to make sure that we're doing everything we can to make this work for everybody." The Dolphins' stadium plan is in its early stages and not on the docket at this year's league meetings.
  • Garfinkel also provided an interesting tidbit: The bidding process for the 2019 Super Bowl begins in the summer. Part of the reason the Dolphins are trying to renovate Sun Life Stadium is to make Miami more attractive for future Super Bowls. The Dolphins most likely would prefer to have all the answers on renovations by the summer in order to make the strongest bid possible.
  • Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis didn't completely close the door on Incognito signing with his team. The embattled Incognito, who was the central figure in Miami's bullying scandal, told NFL.com last week that he'd love to play for the Raiders because they fit his bad-boy image. "I'd have to think about that," Davis responded Monday.
  • The Dolphins will have a full slate of media availability on Tuesday. Miami head coach Joe Philbin will speak during the AFC coaches breakfast. GM Dennis Hickey and Ross also are expected to speak to the media on Tuesday afternoon.
The New York Giants don't like to build their team through free agency, so the fact that they have signed 19 free agents in the past two weeks indicates they have felt they had little choice. Theirs was a roster in such an extensive state of disrepair that they had to go out and apply as many free-agent band-aids as possible. No way the draft was going to fix all of their immediate needs. No one has enough picks for that.

The signing Friday of John Jerry, one of the former Dolphins offensive linemen who was implicated in the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin bullying scandal last month, is an indication of just how difficult things get when you have to be as active in free agency as the Giants have.

Jerry
Time was, the Giants would have steered way clear of anyone involved in what happened in Miami because they don't need the issues that could arise from inviting potential discord into their locker room, and they had other options for filling whatever hole they were trying to fill. But right now, with cap space dwindling and significant needs still looming with the pass rush and passing offense, the Giants are on the lookout for bargains. And in large part because of what happened last year in Miami, Jerry comes at a bargain price.

Our man Adam Caplan reports that Jerry's deal is for one year and $770,000, with only $25,000 guaranteed. That makes this a no-risk signing for the Giants from a financial standpoint. He'll come in and compete for a roster spot with guys like James Brewer and Brandon Mosley, and if he makes it he could be a useful backup at several positions or even a potential starter if Chris Snee can't answer the bell. Jerry is 27, turning 28 this summer like almost every other free agent they've signed, so he fits the age profile to which they have tried very hard to adhere. (The only player they've signed who is over 30 is kicker Josh Brown.) There are reasons the Giants can convince themselves Jerry makes sense for them, but if he had cost any more to sign than he did, they likely couldn't have brought him in.

This is a tough game the Giants are playing, and it's one in which they are justifiably uncomfortable. There is no way to sign 19 or more free agents and expect them to all work out for you. At best, they are going to end up hitting on maybe half of these signings and have to address the holes left over from the misses again a year from now. Free agency is an imperfect science, fraught with imperfect solutions to larger problems. That is the state of the Giants right now, and the fact that they had to go out and sign someone like Jerry from the pool of backup guards because the Raiders signed Kevin Boothe illustrates it as well as anything yet has.
Crazy things often happen in the NFL. But what are the chances embattled free-agent guard Richie Incognito re-signs with the Miami Dolphins?

Zero.

Zilch.

Nada.

Incognito
Incognito told WSVN in Miami Wednesday night that returning to the Dolphins is his "No. 1 goal." He's coming off a wild offseason and is desperately looking for a job. Incognito also is na´ve to think the Dolphins would invest millions more into a player at the center of their high-profile bullying scandal.

The Dolphins are trying to move forward, not backward. Re-signing Incognito would be an awful step for the Dolphins in the wrong direction. It would create an extension of the 2013 season, when Miami had to deal with an image and public relations fiasco that Incognito helped produce.

The Dolphins traded Jonathan Martin, who was a victim of harassment by Incognito and others, for a reason. They also fired former offensive line coach Jim Turner and former head trainer Kevin O'Neill as part of the fallout. The Dolphins are trying to wash their hands completely of this ugly saga. Imagine the mixed message Miami would send by making the aforementioned changes and still rewarding Incognito with a multimillion dollar contract. That idea is too far-fetched.

There is support for Incognito in Miami’s locker room. Many Dolphins players still believe last year's bullying scandal was overblown. Perhaps that is the glimmer of hope Incognito holds onto. But until center Mike Pouncey, long-snapper John Denney or another Miami player starts making roster decisions, locker room support doesn't amount to much.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said in January that he doesn't see a scenario where Martin or Incognito returns in 2014. It's coming from the very top of the organization that Incognito is not welcomed back. The Dolphins are a billion-dollar industry, and Incognito is bad for business.

For now, Incognito's primary focus should be getting his life in order. He's already had a brutal offseason that included the 144-page Ted Wells report, reportedly wrecking his Ferrari with a baseball bat and getting unspecified treatment at a mental health facility. Incognito must first prove that he's focused and able to contribute this upcoming season.

Eventually, some team may be willing to take a chance on Incognito in 2014. But that team will not be the Miami Dolphins.

Free-agency review: Dolphins

March, 18, 2014
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[+] EnlargeBranden Albert
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesBranden Albert should help stabilize Miami's porous offensive line.
Most significant signing: Left tackle Branden Albert is clearly the biggest free-agent addition to the Miami Dolphins' roster this offseason. Miami paid handsomely. Albert is making $47 million over the next five seasons. However, it was a signing the Dolphins needed to make after allowing a franchise-record 58 sacks in 2013. Miami needs to know if young quarterback Ryan Tannehill is the long-term solution, and the Dolphins can't determine that if Tannehill spends too much time getting hit and laying on his back. Albert, who made the Pro Bowl last year, should buy Tannehill more time next season protecting the blindside.

Most significant loss: The Dolphins' haven't suffered any debilitating losses in free agency. But if I had to pick the biggest loss to this point, it would be starting defensive tackle Paul Soliai. He was a homegrown talent as a former fourth-round pick. Soliai worked hard to become a one-time Pro Bowler, but the Dolphins didn't want to spend too much to keep him. He signed a $33 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons. The Dolphins lessened the loss by signing Earl Mitchell ($16 million) and bringing back Randy Starks ($12 million) at more affordable rates.

Biggest surprise: It was the worst-kept secret in sports that Jonathan Martin could not return to the Dolphins following last year's high-profile bullying scandal. But what was a surprise was how quickly the Dolphins were able to ship Martin to another team and at least get some value in return. Miami traded Martin to the San Francisco 49ers on the first night of free agency for a conditional late-round pick. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, who coached and recruited Martin at Stanford, felt he could make the most out of the former second-round pick. The list of suitors was not long, and the Dolphins were fortunate to get something instead of an outright release.

What's next: The Dolphins did most of their big spending on positions such as left tackle (Albert), defensive tackle (Mitchell, Starks) and cornerback (Cortland Finnegan). Now, look for Miami to bargain hunt to see if it can fill any remaining needs on its roster. The Dolphins still have two starting jobs available on the offensive line at right tackle and guard. They could also use another threat at running back to boost their 26th-ranked rushing attack from last season.
Blaine Gabbert's early-career NFL struggles were certainly different than the troubles Jonathan Martin experienced in his young career.

Gabbert
Gabbert
However, like Martin, Gabbert is looking at his trade to the San Francisco 49ers the same way that Martin did.

"It's an opportunity for a fresh start, and you don't find those very often in the National Football League," Gabbert said in a conference call with media Friday afternoon. "I like to help this team in any way I can."

Martin, who dealt with bullying issues in Miami last season as outlined in the Wells Report, had a similar message when he addressed the media Thursday evening. The 49ers acquired both players this week for low-round draft picks.

Gabbert was the No. 10 overall pick in the 2011 draft. He went 26 picks higher than when the 49ers took starter Colin Kaepernick. Gabbert is grateful the 49ers are giving him a chance after he struggled as the starter in Jacksonville and will be Kaepernick's backup.

The 49ers had their eye on Gabbert in the draft process. Coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke attended his pro day at Missouri and Gabbert had a pre-draft visit to San Francisco.

Gabbert is exited to finally work under Harbaugh.

"He's had success with Alex Smith and now Colin. He's had a great track record with quarterbacks," Gabbert said. "He's another asset I can use to get better and in return help this team in any way possible."
The San Francisco 49ers are getting a veteran cornerback. But they might not be done adding at the position before the draft.

Cook
An NFL source confirmed the team will sign Minnesota free agent Chris Cook. He is expected to sign a team-friendly one-year deal. The team still has interest in Seattle cornerback Walter Thurmond, who is vising the 49ers on Friday, and have interest in retaining Tarell Brown.

Cook will battle for a roster spot. He has experience and at 6-foot-2, he is big for a cornerback. But he has struggled on and off the field at times. He has no career interceptions.

Still, the 49ers -- who added quarterback Blaine Gabbert and offensive lineman Jonathan Martin -- are banking they can salvage Cook's career. If not, the team doesn’t have much invested. ESPN analyst Matt Williamson thinks taking a flier on Cook is worth the 49ers’ while.

“He has a lot of talent,” Williamson said. “Maybe he can resurrect his career in San Francisco.”
Martin
I wanted to follow up with some thoughts on the Jonathan Martin conference call he held with reporters Thursday night:

Martin, in just his second public comments since the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal, predictably didn’t say much about the Dolphins’ situation. He said he wanted to focus on the future.

Martin said all the right things about the 49ers. He said he knows nothing is guaranteed and he has to earn his keep. That’s the right attitude.

It seems as though Martin understands this is his best chance. He is around Jim Harbaugh and some of his other former coaches at Stanford. He has a support system in place. He gets that.

It’s easy to tell that Martin is a Stanford man. He is articulate and spoke at length about his major at the school, which is Classics.

I don’t expect Martin to talk about his Miami experience. Thursday was about the future and I don’t expect that to change moving forward.
The San Francisco 49ers may turn to their greatest rival to address one of their few needs.

Thurmond
Seattle free-agent cornerback Walter Thurmond tweeted Thursday that he is headed to San Francisco for a visit. He visited Jacksonville on Thursday.

Thurmond is a versatile player who can play inside and outside. He’d be an upgrade for the 49ers at the cornerback position, which is still somewhat of a work in progress.

Interestingly, Thurmond and 49ers free-agent cornerback Tarell Brown have the same agent. Because the 49ers have limited cap room, they may be hard pressed to keep Brown -- who reportedly has received interested from Miami -- and sign Thurmond.

The 49ers also are visiting with Minnesota cornerback Chris Cook. He is not considered the player Thurmond or Brown are.

In other 49ers news:
  • Tackle Jonathan Martin passed his physical and his trade to the 49ers from Miami is official. The 49ers are giving Martin, who played for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, a change to salvage his career after being at the center of a bullying case in Miami last season.“Any time we acquire a player we give him a clean slate, along with every opportunity to demonstrate his value to our organization, both on the field and in the community,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement. “It will be no different in Jonathan’s case. As a former Stanford student-athlete, we are very familiar with Jonathan and look forward to working with him.”
  • Free-agent running back Anthony Dixon tweeted that he is going to Buffalo for a visit. He left Tennessee on Thursday. He is not expected to be back with the 49ers. While the salary cap is still fluid, the 49ers are expected to have about $3-4 million remaining.
Tuesday night, after news broke of the 49ers trade for embattled offensive lineman Jonathan Martin from Miami, I lauded the deal for being perfect.

Martin
The trade put Martin, the center of a bizarre bullying case with Dolphin offensive linemates last season, in the best possible situation. He is playing for Jim Harbaugh, who coached him at Stanford. He will have a built-in support system. Plus, the 49ers could use him as a swing offensive linemen. He will be a solid sixth man.

ESPN analyst Matt Williamson concurs. He also thinks it’s a good fit, especially at the cost. The Dolphins will get a seventh-round pick in 2015 if Martin is on the opening day roster this season. Williamson thinks the label that Martin is soft is accurate, but he thinks he has ability and can help in the 49ers’ system as an extra lineman.

“There is a huge shortage of offensive linemen in the NFL, in my opinion, so why not add a guy that you are familiar with that was an early second-round pick based on his talent?” Williamson said. “Will he ever eat nails on the field? No, but San Francisco is the most physical running game in the league, and he will adhere or go away. Plus, they play so many six-man O-line sets (used to be Daniel Kilgore's job, who is now poised to start at center), so they need another quality sixth man.”
DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen and Julius PeppersGetty ImagesHow will aging pass-rushers DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen and Julius Peppers fare in free agency?

If you blinked Monday afternoon between the hours of 4 p.m. ET and 6 p.m. ET, you probably missed a few transactions during an intense open to the 2014 NFL free-agent market. By my count, 28 players agreed to terms on multiyear deals with new teams in about 120 minutes. Another dozen or so scheduled visits with teams they seemed likely to sign with.

A late-night round of action capped a remarkable day for the safety position. It also left available three Hall of Fame pass-rushers, strengthened the Atlanta Falcons, revealed the desperation of the Cleveland Browns and called into question the long-term plan (if there is one) of Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie.

Let's run through the highs, lows -- and everything in between -- on Day 1.

  • The frequency of agreements in the first few minutes of the open market revealed the reality of the preceding three-day "negotiating period." Plenty of under-the-table deals were completed long before 4 p.m. ET, despite rules to the contrary. I don't have a problem with it, to be honest. Discussions about contract parameters naturally lead to common ground. There's no reason to fight it, and the NFL might as well remove the stipulation "preventing" agreements during this period in future years.
  • As noted by ESPN Stats & Information, the class of 477 total free agents was the smallest since 2009 (444). That trend speaks to the growing number of players who re-signed with their existing teams before free agency began.
  • I don't think anyone would have guessed that six safeties would sign market-level deals in musical-chair fashion during the opening hours of free agency. But there was Donte Whitner signing with the Cleveland Browns, T.J. Ward moving from the Browns to the Denver Broncos and Antoine Bethea replacing Whitner with the 49ers. Later, Jairus Byrd signed with the New Orleans Saints to replace Malcolm Jenkins, who had agreed with the Philadelphia Eagles. Oh, and Mike Mitchell moved from Carolina Panthers to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Got all that?
  • [+] EnlargeByrd
    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesJairus Byrd was one of the many safeties who found a new home on Day 1 of free agency.
    Byrd's six-year, $54 million deal was the second-most lucrative for an unrestricted free agent on Day 1, based on the $9 million average per year (APY). When the week began, the Saints had about $3 million in salary-cap space, so for the moment it's a mystery how they can sign Byrd while still being in compliance. Trading running back Darren Sproles and restructuring some other deals would help. Regardless, the Saints couldn't pass up the opportunity to pair a three-time Pro Bowl player with rising star Kenny Vaccaro in their defensive backfield. Byrd has 22 interceptions since he was drafted in 2009. Only Asante Samuel (25) has more over that stretch.
  • Why were safeties valued so highly? (Other than Ward, each member of the group got at least $5 million annually.) I posed that question to Matt Williamson, who scouts the NFL for ESPN.com. Williamson pointed to several reasons, including the increasing difficulty of devising schemes to face athletic tight ends. Many teams consider big safeties the best antidote, especially considering the prevalence of "12" personnel (one running back, two tight ends). Williamson believes defenses will continue countering "12" personnel with "big nickel" schemes that feature three safeties and two cornerbacks rather than the other way around. And finally, we can't forget that the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks have two stud safeties in Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Thomas, in fact, tweeted late Monday night: "Copy cat league."
  • I wonder if that new ideal for big defensive backs extended to cornerback Aqib Talib who pulled in a stunning haul from the Broncos that included $26 million guaranteed. Talib is excellent in coverage but is built like many safeties at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds. Still, this qualifies as arguably the riskiest decisions of the day. In seven previous seasons, Talib has never played in all 16 games.
  • Almost all of the players who signed big deals Tuesday, and really over the past few weeks, were under 30 years old. That fact brings up a fascinating philosophical issue that will play out over the coming days: How much should a trio of Hall of Fame pass-rushers, all on the wrong side of that unofficial age limit, get paid? Julius Peppers (34) and DeMarcus Ware (31) were released Tuesday, while Jared Allen (31) is an unrestricted free agent. Of the three, Ware seemed most likely to cash in after his unexpected release. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Denver Broncos were the favorites to sign him. But age and Ware's 2013 production decrease are all part of the negotiating pot.
  • Speaking of age, the Browns got older at safety and linebacker with their decision to sign Whitner and Karlos Dansby, respectively. Whitner is a year older than Ward, while Dansby is two years older than D'Qwell Jackson. Dansby will turn 33 in November and the Browns still guaranteed him $14 million. It's rare in this NFL climate to see that combination of numbers. The Browns were in a hurry on Tuesday. To do what? I'm not entirely sure, but to do something.
  • The Falcons took a step toward a more traditional 3-4 defense by signing a true nose tackle in Paul Soliai and a big defensive end in Tyson Jackson. Anyone who watched the Falcons' defense last season knows it needed to get stronger up front; they allowed the second-highest average per rush (5.0) on carries between the tackles last season. The Falcons paid handsomely to fix that problem, giving Soliai more than $6 million annually and Jackson about $5 million, but they filled an important need.
  • The Falcons' spending was overshadowed in their own division by the Saints' acquisition of Byrd and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' spending spree. The Bucs remade their defense in a hurry by signing defensive end Michael Johnson, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald and cornerback Alterraun Verner. Coach Lovie Smith has final say over personnel, and it's pretty clear he didn't want to wait until the draft to get to work.
  • Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie is operating 180 degrees from mentor Ted Thompson, who spends his money almost exclusively to retain internal prospects. McKenzie, armed with more than $60 million in salary-cap space, allowed two of his young players to leave and gave one of the biggest contracts of the day to an offensive lineman the St. Louis Rams were willing to part ways with. The Arizona Cardinals poached left tackle Jared Veldheer with a contract that was lower in value (about $7 million annually) than what McKenzie paid to sign guard/tackle Rodger Saffold (more than $8 million annually). McKenzie also let the Chicago Bears sign defensive end Lamarr Houston and the New York Giants sign running back Rashad Jennings. I'm willing to be patient and see what else McKenzie might have planned, but I'm not sure if owner Mark Davis will be. (Update: Overnight, the Raiders signed offensive tackle Austin Howard to a contract that included $15 million guaranteed, per Schefter. They also made plans to host free agent defensive end Justin Tuck and linebacker LaMarr Woodley.)
  • As expected, receivers paid the price for what is expected to be a deep draft class. All seemed quiet with Eric Decker, Hakeem Nicks, James Jones and most of the other veterans available. Only Golden Tate, who had a visit scheduled with the Detroit Lions, seemed to get any action.
  • At the moment, at least, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh appears to be in good standing with the team. He has been given a chance to rebuild quarterback Blaine Gabbert, whom the 49ers acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a sixth-round pick. Harbaugh also got another ex-Stanford player when left tackle Jonathan Martin was acquired from the Miami Dolphins. Both of those moves have Harbaugh's fingerprints all over them.
  • I can hardly wait for Day 2.
Jonathan Martin tweeted Tuesday night that he appreciated getting another NFL opportunity.

I’m sure he realizes this is his best chance at a comeback.

Martin
If the talented, embattled offensive tackle is going to salvage his career, it will be in San Francisco. The 49ers did Martin a favor and acquired the gifted swing tackle by executing a trade with the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday night. Martin was acquired for a conditional draft pick.

While there hasn’t been much talk recently, this has made sense for some time. I wrote that would be a perfect pairing last month.

Martin, who was at the center of a bullying saga in Miami, has a built-in support system in San Francisco as he tries to get his career back on track. He played for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and several of his assistants when they were at Stanford. Martin has reportedly been taking classes at Stanford, which is a short drive from the team’s headquarters. So, personally, he will be surrounded by friends as well.

Harbaugh has been a champion for Martin. He vouched for Martin in the Wells report that examined the bullying case. Harbaugh said in the report he thought Martin could have a successful NFL career. He also said this publicly during the November firestorm: “As far as that situation, there’s only one thing I can intelligently comment on and that’s knowing Jonathan Martin. I know him to be a fine person and his family. [Martin was a] great contributor as a student and an athlete at Stanford, epitomizes the student-athlete model and a personal friend. I support Jonathan.”

Now, Harbaugh will coach him again and I’m sure that will inspire Martin. As part of the Wells report, Martin told friends he wanted to stick with football because he didn’t want to disappoint his former coaches. Now, he is around those men again.

Martin’s presence in the 49ers’ locker room won't likely cause a ripple.

The 49ers boast a stable, veteran-led locker room. Several 49ers players condemned the Miami situation while it was happening. The San Francisco offensive line is a close-knit, easy-going group. I doubt Martin will have trouble fitting in. In fact, 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis welcomed Martin via Twitter on Tuesday night.

Where will Martin fit in San Francisco on the field? The team is set with starting tackles Joe Staley and Davis. But tackle is a premium position and Martin, a former second-round pick, can be a top backup option.

The 49ers got better Tuesday night and Martin got his best chance for football redemption.

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